Love That Makes The Prostitute Pure
“…and standing behind Him at His feet, weeping, she began to wet His feet with her tears and wiped them with the hair of her head and kissed His feet and anointed them with the ointment.”
– Luke 7:38
What Is Happening Here?
Simon, the Pharisee, has asked Jesus to come eat at his home, and Jesus has accepted. However, in the midst of the meal, a “sinful woman” (probably a prostitute) comes into the room and begins to weep and worship at Jesus’ feet.
What is going on here? What was it that would move a prostitute to break nearly every social barrier imaginable and come into the home of a Pharisee? Why does she melt into tears at the sight of Christ? Why is she carrying a flask of ointment? We don’t get clear answers to these questions, but I think we can piece together what might have been happening here….and even though this is conjecture, I think it helps us see something true about beautiful about our God in Christ….something true that is born witness to in the rest of scripture. So, below is my attempt to explain what might have been going on in this story.
A Few Clues
In verse 47, Jesus recounts the acts of devotion and worship that this woman has been performing and concludes:
“Therefore, I tell you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven – for she loved much.”
When Jesus says this He does not mean that her acts of love earned her forgiveness, but that they are proof that she has been forgiven. We could restate Jesus’ words in this way so that His meaning is clearer to our ears:
“Therefore, I tell you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven [and how do I know this?] – because she loved much.”
In other words, the woman’s weeping at the feet of Christ is the manifestations of a heart that knows itself to have been forgiven. So, she loves much because she has been forgiven much. But then notice Jesus’ words to her in verses 48 and 50:
“Your sins are forgiven…your faith has saved you; go in peace.”
Very interesting. It seems that these words of Jesus are the first time that forgiveness is formally declared over the woman. What this means is that the woman is not forgiven before she enters the house, but that she is forgiven when she leaves. Therefore the forgiveness had to happen while she was in Christ’s presence. However, if her acts of love are evidence of her forgiveness (and she was not forgiven before entering), this means she must have been forgiven after entering the room, but before her weeping and worship.
With these things in mind, it seems to me that this woman might be the only example in the gospels of someone who approaches Jesus specifically so that their sins might be forgiven. Perhaps she had heard of Jesus’s authority to forgive sins (5:20)…..maybe some of the other prostitutes were talking (or mocking) about a man who said he could forgive sins…. “He couldn’t forgive all my sins, I tell you that!”….I can imagine her hearing things like that from the other women…..but, by God’s grace, perhaps this particular woman was struck with a hunger and thirst for real, deep, lasting forgiveness….and if Jesus could heal body and soul, then she would go to Him and ask to be made clean…
If this is the case, then maybe the reason that she breaks into weeping upon entering the room is that as soon as she, by faith, comes into Christ’s presence seeking forgiveness, she knows that He has forgiven her. So abundant is the grace of God in Christ that even coming into the same room as Him – with a heart seeking His mercy– overwhelms this “sinful woman” with the lavish forgiveness of her Savior….she drops to her knees and weeps with wonder and joy because, even without asking, Christ knows her heart and has washed her scarlet stains as white as snow.
But why did she have the alabaster flask of ointment? Well, if my theory is correct and she came seeking forgiveness for her sins, perhaps – since she had likely been giving herself sinfully to men since childhood – she brought the ointment as a “payment” because she thought that her sins would need something “extra” if they were to be forgiven…..Maybe she said to herself, “I know Jesus forgives sins, but I am so putrid in my sinfulness, I’ll bring this flask of ointment to make up for it…” If this is true, then how beautiful is it that the moment she walks in she breaks the flask and pours out the ointment in worship on Christ’s feet? What she had meant to use as payment she pours out in praise.
Again, the story outlined above may or may not be true, but scripture is clear that there is no way for us to “buy” or “earn” forgiveness from the Lord, He is lavish in His grace and will hear nothing of us “paying Him back” (Isaiah 55:1-3, 7)…..all we can do is come in our weakness, be washed by His love, and then pour ourselves out not as payment, but in joyful worship to the Lord who has become our Life.
The sinful woman enters with payment in her hands, but she is so immediately enveloped in the arms of God’s forgiveness in Christ that the “payment” is turned to the outpoured worship of love.
Love that Makes the Prostitute Pure
Oh, Glory to our Incarnate God! Glory to the Maker of heaven and earth who came to dwell within His creation! Glory to the one through whom and for whom all things exist, who walked among us, Emmanuel, Christ the King, the Merciful and Gracious God….The One who receives sinners, who receives women who have poured out their lives in sin, and who washes them spotless in His blood….praise be to the Holy One whose mercy draws harlots off the streets and into His presence – weeping and rejoicing that they’ve been made pure by His love……
Oh Glory to our God! For those who have been defiled by the perverse “love” of the world, Christ washes you clean with the purity of His dying and rising Love at the cross. Oh Pure Love! Love that purifies the prostitute, that makes the sinful soul clean! Love that FORGIVES – that wholly and without fail FORGIVES! There is no God like YHWH, there is no Savior like Him, and there is no love like His!
“Who is this who even forgives sins?” (Luke 7:49)
“YHWH, strong and mighty, YHWH, mighty in battle, the King of Glory” (Ps.24:8,10).
That is who this is, Simon. That is who sits at your table – displaying as much mercy toward you as He condescends to eat in your house as He shows to the harlot whom He forgives – to your indignation. That is who forgives sins….YHWH, the Lord, merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness. Keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity, transgression, and sins – but who will by no means clear the guilty”(Exodus 34:6-7).
And even as forgiveness pours from Christ like water from the Rock split in the wilderness, neither this woman, nor Simon, nor any sinner will be forgiven apart from just punishment……and that is what is so staggering about our God. He forgives iniquity and transgression and sin, by shedding His own blood, by becoming the “guilty” party, by being crushed under our own punishment……………on the cross, Jesus bore this woman’s prostitution, He became her harlotry, He died her deserved death, He swallowed her damnation, and He rose again for her justification ….that is why He can say to her – and to all who trust in Him – “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.”